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Why the GOP's push to ‘expunge’ Trump’s first impeachment matters

Two years after Donald Trump was impeached for trying to extort our Ukrainian allies, some Republicans want to “expunge” his punishment altogether.


On February 5, 2020, Donald Trump’s first impeachment trial wrapped up in his favor. There was bipartisan support for convicting the Republican, but there weren’t nearly enough votes to remove him from office.

Two days later, the then-president said something unexpected. “Should they expunge the impeachment in the House?” Trump asked rhetorically. “They should because it was a hoax.”

In other words, 48 hours after his trial was finished, despite several Republican senators conceding that Trump’s illegal extortion scheme toward Ukraine was indefensible, the then-president was already talking about ways to invalidate his impeachment after the fact.

Such talk largely disappeared from the political landscape — though Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin of New York briefly pushed the idea a couple of years ago — but this week it made a comeback. Fox News reported:

Oklahoma GOP U.S. Senate candidate Rep. Markwayne Mullin Tuesday is introducing a resolution to expunge former President Donald Trump’s first impeachment — saying Democrats didn’t prove “high crimes and misdemeanors.” Mullin’s nine-page resolution, if passed by the House, would declare “expunged” Trump’s 2019 impeachment over allegedly leveraging U.S. military aid to Ukraine for political favors involving investigations of the Bidens.

The Oklahoma Republican’s resolution was formally unveiled earlier this week, and it quickly picked up five GOP co-sponsors. I suspect that the total of backers will grow, as more Republicans look for ways to prove their fealty to the former president.

History buffs might recall that a related effort happened nearly two centuries ago. Lawmakers censured then-President Andrew Jackson in 1834, only to have his allies “expunge“ the censure from the record in 1837 after control of the Senate switched party hands.

The point at the time was for partisans to say that the congressional action happened, but for the sake of the historical record, it didn’t really count. Trump’s acolytes appear to have similar intentions now.

That’s not encouraging.

There are a couple of angles to keep in mind. The first is that the GOP effort to rewrite the history from 2019 is ridiculous. As we’ve discussed, while in the White House, Trump initially didn’t want to provide our Ukrainian with military assistance, and when he grudgingly changed his mind, the Republican tried to extort our ally: He’d provide the military assistance if Ukraine helped him cheat in the 2020 election.

There isn’t even any real debate over the developments themselves. On July 25, 2019, there was a phone meeting between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. According to the official White House call summary, Zelenskyy specifically told his American counterpart, in the context of security measures, “We are ready to continue to cooperate for the next steps. Specifically, we are almost ready to buy more Javelins from the United States for defense purposes.”

A moment later, the Republican replied, “I would like you do us a favor, though.”

What followed was a plot in which the then-American president tried to leverage security aid to an ally in the hopes that Zelenskyy and his government would help Trump politically. It was an illegal extortion scheme for which the Republican was impeached.

As outrageous as Trump’s misconduct appeared at the time, it looks even worse now. Kevin Madden, a Republican strategist, recently told NPR, “There’s just a lot of evidence that Trump was wrong on this issue [Ukraine] and that in many ways, we undermined the NATO alliance and we undermined Zelenskyy’s position in the eyes of Russia and Putin.”

In other words, the world is still dealing with the consequences of Trump’s dangerous misconduct.

All of which leads to the second point: Instead of accepting and dealing with their leader’s wrongdoing, too many Republicans, who tolerated his offenses two years ago, now want to pretend that Trump’s misdeeds didn’t happen — or in the case of “expunging” resolution, that his transgressions shouldn’t count.

Last month, Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois said the “biggest regret” of his congressional career was voting against Trump’s first impeachment in 2019. It’s a problem that none of his GOP colleagues joined with him in expressing regret. It’s a bigger problem that some of his GOP colleagues want to wipe the impeachment vote from the record altogether.